Every year, my grandpa Bill gave up watermelon for Lent. Such a sacrifice, being back in the day when out-of-season fruits seldom sold in the grocery store. So I started mentally composing a list of things I could possibly give up for Lent way back in January. It contained things like “cooking breakfast” and “laundry.” As much as my grandfather was a wise, wise man… it slightly misses the point.
I have grown to love the Lenten season. I have the emotional make-up to thrive on these kinds of situations – give me a goal, let me attach meaning and see how far I take it. I was challenged my junior year of college when I gave up coffee; my world was rocked when I kissed goodbye to hot showers for 40 days (and not a day more). I took a hiatus through most pregnancies – to be honest, I felt like I had sacrificed enough of my diet and physical space for the time being.
This year, however, I’m back to it. A friend who is trained in Ayurvedic health gave me a brief lesson on the seasons and how a spring cleanse can bring wellness to the body and soul. Though it’s based more on the elements and the rains of the spring, the philosophy is the same – lighten yourself for a period of time to become more focused on your intention.
She gave me a visual: often in the spring we find ourselves stuck – all that rain and snow melting off brings a wetness and if we’re not careful, we get stuck in the mud. The process of lightening and shedding makes it easier to get un-stuck.
For me, so it goes with Lent. Sometimes we simply find ourselves digging further and further in a pile of spiritual mud, rocking back and forth. Lent, with its focus on the discipline of fasting, makes it possible to try on something new and for 40 days forces us to explore new habits.
I read an encouraging blog post
about what to “really” give up for Lent – things like comparison and fear of failure and self-pit. While I like these things, they fit better as the result of a successful fast, not the “thing” you’re fasting from. Giving up bitterness and resentment rarely works because nothing forces us to face our addiction to it quite the same way as turning down our favorite cup of joe.
A Jewish mode of operation includes the idea that if you practice something long enough, even if it doesn’t have purity in meaning, it will eventually become significant. (I could write a whole post on this topic – save those questions for later). While the approach often gets flogged in contemporary evangelical grace-filled culture, I believe it to be true and a powerful tool in our spiritual toolbox. Not the only one, but as significant as a hammer – and just try to build a house without one.
So Lent, and any practice of fasting, helps us build a habit. You might not always pray instead of drink Pepsi but the habit of denying yourself of something you want and enjoy builds into a lifestyle of appreciation and gratitude. Sometimes it’s good to feel in your body just how powerful a hold an object can have over your physical self.
This year, I’m going with the overdone social media. Yes, this will be a tad tricky as it is my job. However, I think I’ve found some workarounds. I’m focusing my fast toward my actual FB feed – the news of my friends and all of their cat pictures. I can still log in to check my little red flag for work-related tasks as well as connect with friends, because I do believe social media has a positive force in my life in that regard. I stay at home all day with kids – I need every avenue possible to conversate. It’s not feasible for me to “meet someone for coffee instead” so I’ll continue to field messages.
I will turn off the push notifications on my phone so that I can begin to break myself of the need to check while in transit. I will tune into social media at my own will, not at the will of a red flag. I’ll also be allowing blog reading, so you may see me post things I find interesting. In preparing for my Fat Tuesday, I asked “What do I need to consume less to create more*?” which was a fantastic guide to how I want social media to fit in my life over Lent. I want to consume less meaningless info about other people while still maintaining connection. I want to read more and think more and (hopefully) blog it – create – more.
I’ve become stuck in knowing what’s going on in others’ lives and I want to be free to create more traction in my own. I’m still praying through if there’s a food group that I’ll deny myself, though I’m likely to self-justify that I pretty regularly turn down favorites and don’t feel a strong pull in that direction. But as I mentioned, there’s power in the physical force of change, so if I want to feel the full force, I might still come up with something.
What about you? I would love to hear what you need to consume less to create more. I’d love to hear the action you’re taking to step outside the normal rhythms and try on new habits that shake loose the bindings of our physical world.
*Thanks, Paul for that one. I’ve asked myself every year after your sermon on this.